Hayes Gymnasium brimmed with enthusiasm as whistles and the roars of encouragement resounded through the historic structure with the shouts of, ‘Drive, drive, drive,’ ‘Push the corner,’ ‘Come on, Bradley,’ and ‘Let’s go, Liz!’ that motivated a cadet toward history.
As it turned out, on March 24, Class of 2022 Cadet Elizabeth Bradley shattered the women’s Indoor Obstacle Course Test record by six seconds, finishing the course in two minutes and 20 seconds, breaking the previous mark of 2:26 in 2013.
“Achieving the record was exciting to me because I always knew I was capable of it and had the potential to do it,” Bradley said. “It was a very relieving feeling to finish it.”
Initiated in 1944 during World War II, at West Point, the IOCT was created through lessons learned from WWII as a comprehensive measurement of a cadet’s physical ability in military movement through a series of obstacles assessing agility, strength, technique and cardiovascular capacity.
“For anyone who has ever experienced the IOCT, there is no doubt that it is a physically and mentally challenging assessment of physical fitness,” Col. Nicholas Gist, director of the Department of Physical Education, said. “Regardless of current performance, the expectation is for cadets to continuously strive to demonstrate excellence. The Army and its Soldiers deserve and expect leaders of character, and the IOCT is but one opportunity to develop performance-based character in the physical program.”
The IOCT has gone through various changes throughout the years, from the passing qualification times and the course route obstacles to becoming a requirement for all cadets to take every academic year, including plebes during their gymnastics course, since 2014.
The test consists of 11 events that begins sequentially with the low crawl under a barrier and then onward to the tire footwork, two-handed vault, maneuvering over an eight-foot horizontal shelf, horizontal bar navigation, hanging tire and balance beam for the floor-level events.
Bradley did consider one of the floor-level events to be the hardest of all of them to perform.
“The balance beam is always a daunting obstacle because it has the most room for error,” Bradley said. “If you fall off it, you have to go back and do it again. Other than that, I wasn’t really concerned about any obstacle since I had practiced all of them so much.”
Before the IOCT run began, Bradley felt nervous but was confident at the same time. Her training kicked in as she ran fluidly through the first few obstacles and knew she was keeping a good pace to get close to the record.
“My technique for the bottom (obstacles) is simply to be smooth and steady to avoid making any mistakes,” the Houston native who majors in Geospatial Information Systems said. “Throughout the floor portion, I felt very focused, tackling one obstacle at a time trying to make the run as smooth as possible. I felt controlled through the bottom and I could tell the run was going faster than usual.”
The concluding four-course events approach the final ascent to the top level that begins with an eight-foot vertical wall climb, 20-foot horizontal ladder, 16-foot vertical rope climb to the top level of Hayes Gym that ends with a 350-meter sprint on the track. The last run includes a six-pound medicine ball sprint, baton sprint and then finishes with an empty-handed sprint the last 110 meters to the finish line.
And while you can be anxious before the start, as Bradley explained, the combination of mental and physical aspects to achieve one’s goals at the IOCT make it a daunting venture for anyone.
“I would say the IOCT is 90% mental,” Bradley said. “It’s probably one of the most challenging physical events we are required to do at West Point. It requires you to push yourself past what you think you are capable of.
“The bottom portion alone will leave you completely gassed,” she added. “Throw in the top portion and your entire body will feel like it’s about to collapse when you finish. If you ask any cadet about the IOCT, they’ll tell you that it hurts.”
To prepare for this year’s IOCT, Bradley started prepping six weeks out by shifting her typical workout schedule toward a speed and anaerobic focus. She also trained with the current male IOCT record holder with the hopes that she could improve on her time of 2:27 from a year ago.
“I trained with (Class of 2021 Cadet) Trevaun Turner, the male record holder, and we did lots of sprint workouts that he did during his preparation last year,” Bradley said of Turner, who got the record of 1:54 in 2019. “My improvement from last year to this year was made up almost entirely on the top half, or track portion, of the IOCT. I knew this was the area that I had the most potential to improve just by increasing my speed and fitness, so I primarily trained on running (with Turner).”
Bradley is a competitive athlete. While growing up, she competed in competitive rock climbing, cross country, swimming and track and field, where she competed in the pole vault. Those combined experiences helped her through the expansive skills needed in the IOCT.
With all those talents in her tool kit, Bradley felt her experience, including participating on Company I-3’s Sandhurst team previously, helped her throughout the IOCT course.
“I think my background in climbing aided me in the bottom half of the IOCT as it consists of many upper body focused obstacles that require both strength and coordination,” Bradley said. “My track and cross-country background gave me a strong running base that allowed me to push myself hard on the top half.”
Maj. Sarah Ferreira, a DPE instructor, is one of three DPE testing officers responsible for administrating and executing the IOCT for the U.S. Corps of Cadets. Each year, the officers administer eight record IOCTs for the second-class and first-class cadets, which is a part of their annual testing and graduation requirement toward the cadet’s Physical Program GPA, Ferreira said.
Ferreira explained that each year the DPE instructors see thousands of cadets take the IOCT, both in PE117 (Military Movement) and the eight upper-class IOCTs, but Bradley’s performance was one of those few runs to truly witness.
“Cadet Bradley’s performance was truly exceptional,” Ferreira said. “It was evident that Cadet Bradley’s deliberate preparation, focused training efforts and hard work paid off on Wednesday evening. Last year, in 2020, she was one second away from tying the female IOCT record and this year she came back and beat it by six seconds, which is quite a large time margin for the IOCT.”
Ferreira said that every single movement in the IOCT matters for someone looking to break the record and felt that Bradley had her routine down to a science to achieve it.
“Bradley really excelled at the horizontal bars and the rope climb,” Ferreira said. “She completed the horizontal bars in under seven seconds and got up the rope in two locks. She was extremely efficient with her movements and executed a flawless floor routine, which set her up for success on the track portion of the test.”
Gist said it was amazing to see her surpass the record by six seconds, and when cadets strive for and attain their goals, “It is exactly the relentless pursuit of excellence we admire in these future leaders.”
Even though Bradley didn’t take PE117 until her yearling year, Gist said many saw her potential right away in that class as they taught the IOCT. He said her skills from the rock-climbing team helped translate to the various obstacles on the course.
“Lizzie is so smooth on the obstacles due to her general athleticism,” Gist said. “Couple her agility, balance and coordination with anaerobic and aerobic fitness and you have a great combination. She spent a lot of time perfecting her skills and coordinating movements, then added a good measure of grit.”
Ferreira was not only excited to see Bradley put everything together to achieve her goal of breaking the IOCT record but is excited to see her growth going forward as a cadet.
“I’m extremely proud of Cadet Bradley for not only breaking the IOCT record, but for demonstrating physical excellence on a daily basis and continuously striving to achieve challenging goals,” Ferreira said. “She serves as a role model for all cadets and I know she will continue to excel in all pillars here at the academy.”
To achieve the IOCT graduation requirements, men must pass with at least a 3:30 time and women at 5:29. However, to achieve the highest grade of an A-plus, men must get a 2:26 or below and women a 3:11 or lower.
Gist said that 85 cadets, around 8%, from the Class of 2021 earned the A-plus grade with an equal representation of men and women. He added that second-class cadets within the current DPE policy who earn an A-minus or better are exempt from performing the IOCT in their firstie year.
“We challenge all cadets every year to set a realistic goal and take the actions to reach that goal,” Gist said. “Not everyone is on the same journey, but everyone can get better each day.”
Bradley said it was nice to knock out the graduation requirement but was more thrilled that she became the second female to reach the men’s A-plus mark.
“Receiving an A-plus grade on the men’s scale is a good feeling because no one can tell me I didn’t deserve it or had an easier standard,” Bradley said.
Even though she is exempt from taking the IOCT next year as a firstie because of getting at least an A-minus grade, Bradley plans to take another crack at it.
“Next year, I can only hope to break (the record) again,” Bradley, the Company I-3 first sergeant who hopes to branch Engineers, said. “I know it’s possible, but it will surely take a lot more training.”